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TribBlog: A Taxing Problem

The state's tax on corporations could end up half a billion dollars shy of Comptroller Susan Combs' predictions, officials with her office say.

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The state's tax on corporations could end up half a billion dollars shy of Comptroller Susan Combs' predictions, officials with her office say.

The tax brought in $4.5 billion in fiscal 2008 and $4.3 billion in fiscal 2009. The comptroller predicted it would raise $4.3 billion again this year — FY 2010 — but that appears unlikely. The tax was due on May 17, and only $3.6 billion has been collected. Some companies filed extensions and won't pay up until August, but those late payers probably won't cover the gap. Last summer, the late filers paid $250 million. This year, to make the comptroller's projection come true, they'd have to pay $700 million by August 31.

Couple that with sales taxes that are running far short of the comptroller's estimate. Sales taxes are the state's largest source of tax money, and through the end of April, the state collected about $1.5 billion less than it collected during the same period a year earlier (the comptroller had estimated sales tax growth of 0.7 percent).

If sales taxes improve a bit — it appears they're coming back up to last year's levels — the two missed estimates total about $2 billion. There's still more than a year left in the two-year budget period, but the economy would have to improve at a really good clip to catch up. That appears unlikely. The numbers are separate from the estimates of an $11 billion to $18 billion shortfall in the budget lawmakers will write next year, but could eventually add to that problem. This is money that's needed to keep the current budget balanced. If revenues fall short, lawmakers could backfill, adding money later to cover current costs. That, in turn, would add to the shortfall in the next budget.

In any case, the comptroller doesn't expect the business tax numbers to make it all the way back  up to the $4.3 billion estimate. "We expect the numbers to be lower because they reflect the business activity of the last year," said R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for Combs. "We'll have a definitive answer in August."

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